Appreciation for Popsicles and Apathy

Written by Jacob Schmitt

I had fallen so far from what I wanted in life that I was prepared to do anything to gain acceptance and approval. What I ended up with was 30 years in prison — having never shed a drop of blood in my life. For many, that is where the story would end, but for me — that’s where it began. I can be a good person whether I am in prison or not. The truly beautiful thing about this realization is that its true for all of us. Every man and woman incarcerated has the ability to be in prison without allowing prison to be in us. Granted, it takes courage and commitment to stand in the face of an environment as inherently negative as prison and say: I will be more than this. But we can do it.

May 26, 2022

Photo by Lanju Fotografie on Unsplash

RCW 72.09.010 – Legislative intent. It is the intent of the legislature to establish a comprehensive system of corrections for convicted law violators within the state of Washington to accomplish the following objectives. […]
(5)(a) Avoiding idleness. Idleness is not only wasteful but destructive to the individual and to the community.

Today the administration at MCC notified the incarcerated population that a “staff appreciation” event will be held on May 31, 2022. At the same time as this notice was being disbursed, the Twin Rivers Unit Associate Superintendent was going around the institution with a bowl full of popsicles and handing them out to staff.

The incarcerated population at MCC is furious by this shameless demonstration of “atta-boy” behavior — and here’s why:

While this event occurs, MCC prisoners will be locked down from 10:30 a.m until 2:30 p.m. Staff will be eating BBQ while we eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

To be fair, staff have gone through a lot during covid. With Gov. Inslee’s vaccine mandate causing major staff shortages, many MCC staff worked four double shifts a week for months. In addition, DOC struggles to keep new hires because it is simply an agency that doesn’t know how to be humane — either to employees or prisoners.

Whereas staff suffering at MCC has ended, the horrors of covid isolation for prisoners has never lessened — and in fact continues to worsen under the free hand administrators have to cause harm — all under the covid umbrella.

At Twin Rivers Unit the prisoners in both medium custody units have been removed from their jobs in all Correctional Industries operations besides the kitchen. This results in them being stuck in the housing unit all day. Milling around. Doing nothing.

Recreation has dwindled from four to six hours every day, down to a meager two hours — which is cancelled several times a week for a variety of reasons. Going to the yard on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings has disappeared completely.

Volunteer programs no longer exist. Twin Rivers used to have religious programs for all faith groups every single day of the week. Self-betterment programs such as Bridges to Life, Defy Ventures, Bridges to HOPE, Toastmasters, and recovery groups like AA/NA and Celebrate Recovery.

All gone.

Draconian covid protocols are imposed and aggressively enforced. Masks on at all times, maintain six-foot distance … completely ignoring the space limitations that do not allow “social distancing” — and the fact that we are sheltering in place when in our “wings.”

Visitation has been decimated — from four days a week for seven hours a day, down to three, 3- hour visits a month. We can drink bottled water now — but masks remain on with no eating food or kissing our loved ones. The argument against eating? Our masks would be down for too long.

MCC administrators must have found magic masks for the staff appreciation event — because surely they won’t be allowed to unmask and eat around one another. Ha.

Since March of 2020 this has gone on for us. During the covid outbreak that began in November when three maintenance staff infected their inmate work crews, MCC prisoners went weeks eating food that wasn’t fit for a dog. Many went weeks without a clean change of clothing. All were locked down for over a month. Over 400 positive cases and DOC never gave out a single cough drop.

Nobody has ever offered anything that resembles an apology to the prisoners at MCC. Certainly we’re not having a BBQ to acknowledge the way we continue to suffer. Our daily lives are fear. When will they take visits? When will they lock us in again?

I appreciate staff — and I only hope that they “drink the kool-aid” during their BBQ. Or was it in the popsicles?

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